St John’s Crisis Centre – Opening The Doors To The Homeless

WORDS: Corrine Barraclough PHOTOGRAPHY Brian Usher - [email protected]

“A hand up not a hand out” is the living, breathing mantra of St John’s Crisis Centre in Surfers. After COVID, and now the rising cost of living, many Gold Coasters are struggling. ORM went along to get the story and find out how we can all help…

In the heart of Surfers Paradise, tucked away from the tourist hustle, bustle and buzz, just down the road from Q1 you’ll find St John’s Crisis Centre.

The work that’s going on inside this lively, smiley community hub and safe haven to support the homeless and less fortunate members of the Gold Coast community is nothing short of incredible.

St John’s Mission is to offer ‘a hand up not a handout’. The centre offers a dignified environment in which clients who find themselves on struggle street can find a homecooked lunch, food takeaways and various services including employment assistance and counselling all under one roof.

“We had to really think on our feet when COVID hit,” Dianne Kozik, General Manager tells ORM. “The restrictions came in and we had to change our daily lunch serving to takeaways. For all of us, it was a huge unknown, the team really wanted to still help to provide support to those who rely on St John’s. It was a great success!”

There’s a huge range of services offered at the centre, completely free of charge; designed to get Gold Coasters through the immediate crisis in front of them, and then build their way back up from there.

The purpose is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, show hospitality to strangers and care for the needy in a way that recognises an individual’s dignity. Encouraging independence is central to the purpose here, which is why a holistic approach and range of services are all offered under one roof, in order to assist clients to find their feet again.

Monday to Friday, St John’s Crisis Centre provides food, clothing and other essential services for Gold Coasters in their time of crisis. It’s a non-denominational charity that’s devoted to helping community members when society has failed them.

“Last year, the Centre was able to serve over 33,000 meals to people in need,” Dianne says. “And remember, this is all thanks to 65 volunteers, who don’t necessarily have the time, but they have the heart to help. We’ve already been inundated with requests for Christmas hampers this year, it’s going to be a very busy season.”

It all started in October 1981 when two parishioners from the Surfers Paradise Anglican Church – Joan Hancock and Joyce Forbes – began serving hot evening meals from the parish centre at 36 Hamilton Ave, Surfers.

Talking about being useful in the community, not just being about giving money, Joan says, “My answer from God came one day when I was doing the washing. The phone rang and it was a lovely friend, Merilyn from the Southport Probation Office who was telling me how there were many youths in Surfers Paradise who walked the streets at night to keep warm and only slept in the daytime, when they found a place where they felt safe and warm… Little did I know it would become my life’s work for the next 33 years!”

Her stories, as you can imagine, from over the years are amazing, starting with buying 9-foot lengths of construction plastic which was tough, folded in two, and could be used to make makeshift sleeping bags for the homeless.

The response from the homeless community was immediate, as was the overall growth of the ‘Drop In Centre’.

In 1986, a management committee was established.

It quickly became apparent that other areas of social welfare were also desperately needed, especially financial crisis intervention and assistance with accommodation.

In 1989 the Welfare Office started operating Monday – Thursday.

At the same time, the Centre began leasing houses from the State Government to provide emergency and medium-supported men’s accommodation.

“In June of 1989, we were given a three-bedroom house from the Queensland Government at Nerang which accommodated up to six men (two men sharing each bedroom),” Joan continues. “The home was to operate seven days a week to house men who were previously homeless. Our Men’s Homes were homes of opportunities. A great many men left with changed lifestyles – for the better.”

Today, the Welfare Office helps with food vouchers, transportation vouchers, referral assistance with rent and utilities, used clothing, baby clothes and supplies for new mothers, parcels of groceries. Shower facilities are provided by Orange Sky on Monday and Wednesday in the church parking lot 10 am-noon. A special fund also enables the Centre to assist with school fees and uniforms.

As rental prices soar and headlines about the cost-of-living crisis spin relentlessly around the news cycle, making ends meet is a very real battle for many Gold Coasters. ORM attended several lunch servings to hear what clients have to say about their situation, how tough things are, and how much St John’s Crisis Centre is helping them.

Charlie, 55, is currently living in his car, which he parks near the beach. He’s been living this way on and off for three and a half years. He and his girlfriend lost their baby to Child Safety as he didn’t have secure accommodation and his focus since has been clearing hurdles so they can all live together.

“My daughter has just turned two. She’s called Carolina,” he tells ORM. “I’m doing everything I can to get her back out of foster care. I’m doing all the urine tests they ask for and seeing a psychologist, psychiatrist, and social workers. It’s hard – it’s really hard. I was living in a hostel for a spell but that was $175 per week and my pension is only $630 per fortnight. Private rentals have gone up to $500 or $600 a week, it’s just not affordable for me. I’m like a dog chasing my tail, I’m going around in circles. I can’t work because I don’t have stable accommodation, and I can’t get stable accommodation because I don’t have a job. I come to St John’s Crisis Centre several times each week and I’m so grateful for all that they do.”

Charlie 55

Alana, who didn’t want to be pictured, has been living rough for the past year. “I go into the Housing Department at Robina every single day,” she says. “I keep pestering them but they don’t have any housing so it’s just frustrating. This is the first time I’ve been homeless. Honestly, jail is better than this, you have a roof over your head, you’re safe and you have a support system for when you leave. I come to St John’s most lunchtimes. If it wasn’t for these services, I’d have nothing at all. I don’t know how I would eat. I come and eat lunch but I don’t take anything else, I just eat what I need to keep me going.”

Paulie 47

Paulie, 47, lives around Surfers. “There is no housing, that’s the problem,” he says as he sits down on the church steps for a chat. “It was bad anyway, but it’s gotten worse and worse since COVID. Then, people from Victoria and New South Wales started coming up and offering landlords six months’ rent up front. That’s impossible for anyone to compete with; I don’t have five years’ rental history or references and I can’t compete with young families. It’s just me and I like it that way, life is simpler that way. I’ve known the people here at St John’s for five years. They’ve seen us through COVID; it was the only place that looked after us through all of that COVID mess. The cops were here, watching 24/7, but the people here at St John’s they just kept going. I hear people complain that they’re giving away frozen meals here, to homeless who don’t have microwaves, but seriously, they’re doing the best they can. If that’s all they’re left with, they’re still trying and getting donations wherever they can. I come in every day, it’s a good way to break up my day, I like to spend a couple of hours here. It’s a social thing too.”

Ray, 66, is currently living in Southport in a one-bedroom unit. St John’s helped him get the accommodation as he was living in his campervan previously. “It was a big, cool van hey! I lived in that for five years or so,” he says, lighting up the room. “I used to own and run surf shops here on the Goldie in the 1980s, I owned Star Jammer and I used to surf and hang out with all the surfing community. Then the big brands came along, ripped off designs, made their millions and people like me lost out.”

There are human beings behind the headlines; many Gold Coasters are doing it tough.

Doesn’t all of this generosity of spirit remind you of that famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”?

Ray 66

Scott’s Story

“From addiction to living my best life”

“I escaped a domestic violent relationship fuelled with drug abuse, from Ipswich to the Gold Coast, living in my car with my dog. One week I spent all my DSP on drugs and a friend told me about St John’s. I went there and got some food to help me get through until my next DPS payment. I never forgot this.

“A year later I went into recovery, and it was suggested that I give service. St John’s came straight to mind, so I went to ask if I could volunteer. I was told I needed to have one year’s clean time, so off I went to stay clean and was offered to start seven months later. When I was volunteering I had a conversation with Cathy, a job provider and she suggested I start studying. St John’s supported me with a laptop and taught me so much more while I was volunteering there. I did my Cert 3, then Diploma of Community Services with Aurora training institute, doing my work placement at St John’s. They also helped me get some casual work as a window cleaner and courier driver for Australia Post. During this time, I became a full-time student at TAFE QLD, doing my Cert 4 in Mental Health Peer Support Work. In March this year I started a permanent/part-time position at St John’s as a Peer Support & Community Engagement worker. I’ve also created a Creative Men’s Art Group to help men to communicate their inner experience and what they’re feeling in a creative way.

I have put my life in order and prepared for a new beginning. I speak my truth with an open mind and open heart, my cup is overflowing, and I have the privilege to share my lived experience in the workplace to support those who have had similar experiences. Seven years ago, I was living in my car with mental health challenges and drug addiction; today I have been clean and sober for over four years, and I own a 2-bedroom apartment in Surfers Paradise. With the right care and support, it can be done!

Thank you, St John’s Crisis Centre, with your support and love, I am now living my best life and look forward to what my future holds.”

  • St John’s Crisis Centre is a stand-alone not-for-profit charity that relies on volunteers, community donations, fundraising and government grants to operate.
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